We live in a society where one would find it hard to believe that there are people who do not have even one friend. It was only recently that I became aware of such a view after following the story of a woman who went missing, but it was later revealed that she fled her abusive spouse. Among other topics discussed online, I was particularly triggered by the comments expressing disbelief at her lack of close friends. For many, the state of being friendless is inconceivable.
In a society like ours, it has become natural to assume that everyone has at least one person they can call a good friend. I, too, used to believe so, until I suffered the pain of loneliness, a moment that made me realise of me having no one, of me feeling friendless. It was during those days that I learned my profound longing for connection, a desire of being wanted and valued. Yet, in those vulnerable times, there was no one. I never anticipated that the combination of yearning for connection and the weight of feeling friendless could be the worst human experience ever.
The feeling of having no one is real. But just a few saw it coming. I was aware that as I got older, my number of friends would shrink. But no one warned me that shrinking could mean losing everyone you care about and from whom you seek care. Growing up being actively involved in various communities, I was used to having people around. And it is reasonable for people to assume I have a lot of friends, that I never possess the feeling of friendlessness. But I can’t lie. I had my moments feeling the absence of care. What’s even more painful is that the disbelief in my loneliness comes from those who know me well.
For those grappling with loneliness, it can be less painful to believe they have no one. Wouldn’t it have been less hurtful to believe we have nothing? By not expecting someone, we wouldn’t feel betrayed. Because what hurts us the most is our need for friends who don’t see things the same way we do.
Friendship is, after all, a relational condition. Without feeling the same way in return, I don’t think you can call someone a friend. The feeling of having a friend should be a shared emotion. I used to believe that some people were my friends and they felt the same way about me. But often, it seems they don’t see the way I do. It broke my heart and made me doubtful to say someone as my friend. But I’m equally doubtful to say so; I’m afraid that I’d hurt those who actually consider me a friend. Hence, friendship feeling requires the act of affirmation; it must be articulated, often verbally.
If language, with its most sophisticated feature of conveying meaning, is prone to undelivered and misinterpreted messages, non-linguistic expressions are even more so. Indeed, friendly gestures are valued, but they do not always indicate an interest to form a deep friendship. We need language to express our sentiments about and for friendship; that’s what words are invented for. We’d like to hear such words said to us. Alas, words tend to stay in the mind and heart, especially in the culture I grew up in. Words appear to be treated as social luxuries; they are only used as a last resort when caring gestures fail. Like me, that abused woman might be one of many people whose friendship is rarely validated by words.
Feeling friendless is real. It is generated when friendship is not confirmed, when words are left unspoken.